As a personal fan of “what if” scenarios, speculation, and alternate timelines, the prospect of “what if” week here at SB Nation is exciting. While mulling over the options of what to write about, I was suddenly dragged back to this past summer, where I wrote a “choose your own adventure” type series of stories, concerning the Eric Lindros trade back in 1992. I had already written about a scenario where the Flyers had not traded for Lindros back in the early 90’s. However, here, I want to explore what might happen had the Flyers held on to him in 2001.
The move was as follows:
August 20th, 2001: Eric Lindros to NY Rangers by Philadelphia for Kim Johnsson, Jan Hlavac, Pavel Brendl and NY Rangers’ 3rd round choice (Stefan Ruzicka) in 2003 Entry Draft.
Now, immediately, there are some drastic consequences, such as the fact that the Flyers never enjoy four seasons from offensive defenseman Kim Johnsson. However, first, I want to address the elephant in the room: the reasoning for the trade. As we know, Eric Lindros sat out the 2000-01 season waiting to be traded after his relationship with Bobby Clarke and the organization reached its most strenuous point. After being concussed by Scott Stevens in game seven of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals, Lindros would never play another game for the club, and it was clear that Clarke didn’t understand Lindros’ situation nor know how to handle a player who was as targeted as Lindros was.
It’s my opinion that if Lindros were not hurt, that Clarke would not have traded him, nor removed the captaincy from him either. In this case, I just refer to 2000, though this almost certainly applies to his entire career. Because of this, in this “what if” scenario, let’s assume that the relationship between Lindros and management is repaired, and that they understand the value he brings to the ice regardless of injury. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t get injured as often as he did in the years to follow, but that management does not view this as a negative and that Lindros does not develop a poor relationship with the team.
Therefore, Lindros plays his age 27 season with the Flyers instead of sitting out. This is very pleasing to me, since the images of Lindros wearing a Rangers jersey disgust me.
I’m unsure of how this would affect the Flyers’ results from 2000-01 to 2002-03, though from an entertainment perspective, it could produce some of the most fun hockey the city would ever see. With Lindros back in the fold, instead of wasting away with Mark Messier and the Rangers, we could have a line of Lindros, Simon Gagne, and Mark Recchi. You could also put Jeremy Roenick or John Leclair with him as well. You would have one of the most dominant lines in hockey.
Where things really start to get interesting is 2003-04. A 30 year old Eric Lindros would have captained the Flyers during the 2003-04 run in the playoffs, perhaps getting them over the hump against the Tampa Bay Lightning, playing alongside Simon Gagne/John Leclair and Jeremy Roenick/Mark Recchi. They would’ve been even more stacked at forward when they were already a ridiculously deep team. The only difference would be that Kim Johnsson wouldn’t be the best defenceman on the team, since he would’ve never left New York. It really all depends on injuries, since this team in particular suffered many of them. However, if they manage to keep somewhat healthy, I think with Lindros there as part of the offensive core they beat Tampa. I know Lindros wasn’t at his best at this point in his career, but perhaps with better linemates and the drive that the 2003-04 team had, he reverts back to his old self.
The Flyers would then have faced Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames, who I think the Flyers would have beaten to win their first Stanley Cup since the 1970’s. However, as for Lindros himself, he only played two more seasons after the lockout, and in both those seasons, played around half of the games. I think he still remains a Flyer, but I’m not sure his past injuries keep him in the game past 2006-07. The changes that came to the game after the lockout, however, will almost certainly benefit his game. In the real world timeline, he retired after his age 33 season. However, those final two years, if they are to be his final years, will look a lot better numbers wise. I think without the dangerous targeting hits and the emphasis on skill, Lindros can put himself back to just under or above a point per game pace.
If Lindros were to remain relatively injury free for his entire career, extrapolating potential point totals through looking at his points per game average, Lindros would have amassed 229 points from 1992 to 1994 when there were 84 games, 73 points during the lockout season, and 844 when the league played 82 games until the end of his career. This would give Lindros 1,146 points, good for 2nd all time on the Flyers and 53rd all time (behind Nick Lidstrom).
Given the changes I mentioned above with the NHL post lockout, it is reasonable to think that a star player of Lindros’ calibre could be effective in the NHL and play until around age 36 to 40, so using the median of 38, Lindros could potentially have played 5 more seasons in the NHL, hanging on from 1992-93 until 2011-12. Calculating his points per game average aware of natural declines, Lindros would have scored 205 more points, upping his total to 1,351, making him the Flyers franchise point leader and placing him 28th all time, ahead of Mats Sundin and behind Guy Lafleur. However, I don’t think that this is entirely realistic given his injury history. Perhaps he could have hung on for a few more seasons after 2006-07 if he remained a Flyer, but I would be doubtful of that.
Regardless of the hypothetical, Lindros would still bow out of the game as one of the most respected and feared power forwards of all time. He would still be a Flyers legend, just with more years and statistics to back that up. Especially now that Lindros has become a team ambassador, the love affair between Flyers fans and him has only strengthened.